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Judge Raises Red Flag About Pot Licenses But Can't Stop Them

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida health officials lack the authority to issue final licenses to the state's first medical marijuana businesses, but an administrative law judge can't do anything to stop them, according to an order issued Friday.

Administrative Law Judge John G. Van Laningham refused to allow Plants of Ruskin --- a nursery that lost out to a competitor in an attempt to get one of five coveted licenses to grow, process and dispense low-THC marijuana --- to take the depositions of health officials.

In his five-page order, Van Laningham wrote that Plants of Ruskin's main purpose for the depositions was to find out whether the Department of Health intended to move forward with the licensing process while a dozen legal challenges are pending.

Agency officials told a Senate panel last week that the process is still on track and that they are preparing to grant permission to the five dispensing organizations, selected last year, to begin cultivating the cannabis.

But in his order, Van Laningham wrote that licenses aren't final until the administrative proceedings are complete.

"Therefore, the department's granting of a license whose intended issuance is currently the subject" of an administrative challenge "would be problematic, to say the least," Van Laningham wrote. But that doesn't matter because he doesn't have the authority to stop them, Van Laningham wrote.

"Whether the department intends to proceed with the issuance of a disputed license or licenses prior to the entry of final orders, however, is irrelevant to this proceeding, for the reason that the undersigned could not do anything to stop the department from so acting, even if he were convinced that the action was unlawful. (The Division of Administrative Hearings) simply does not have jurisdiction to enjoin a state agency," he wrote.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said agency officials would not comment on Van Laningham's order because of pending litigation.

State lawmakers in 2014 approved limited types of cannabis that do not get users high after pleas from parents whose children suffer from epilepsy.